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That dirty taste

The only people willing to put up with all this work are those who think beets taste great. But they are generally in a small minority, at least in United States.

(In Russia, and a number of other eastern European countries, beets are broadly popular. They're the main ingredient in borscht, the national dish of the Ukraine, popular in many eastern European countries.)

But in the US, very many people dislike the taste of beets. They don't like the way they taste like dirt.

There is a big paradox in this, however — one we'll call the Big Beet Paradox.

First, the thing that people object to in beets is not actually part of their taste, strictly speaking, but part of their smell. Our experience of flavor in the things we eat is, in most cases, a combination of tastes which happen inside our mouths and smells that happen inside our noses. A great deal of what you "taste" in eating something is really what you smell. If you don't believe this, try pinching your nose closed real tight the next time you have dinner. You will be surprised to see how different many things will "taste."

So the problem with beets is not so much their taste, but their smell — their scent, their aroma.

Now here's the big paradox: this very same smell, scent, aroma is one that very many people love, but in a different context.

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Think about the last time you noticed the smell of clean, fresh earth in the air. It may have been right after a gentle rain. It may have been the last time you dug up a bit of fresh soil. Do you remember that smell? Do you remember how you felt about it?

Many people love that smell. Poems have been written about that smell.

People love that smell when they experience it coming from fresh soil. But then many of those same people take an instant dislike to that smell when it's coming from a beet. That's the paradox.

This earthy smell is produced by tiny micro-organisms in healthy soil. It's a byproduct of the work these microorganisms do in keeping the soil healthy. It's a set of molecules called geosmins, a scientific term that literally means "earth smell." These geosmins pass from the soil into the beet root; and that's what gives beets their earthy flavor. For some reason, geosmins do not make their way into other root vegetables, only beets.

Many people just react differently to the smell of geosmins depending on whether they run into them in fresh air, out in their garden or in the root of a beet, at their dinner table. But it's the very same smell.

Are beets for you?

Does this new knowledge now tempt you perhaps to give beets another try?

You should.

For many fans, beets were an acquired taste. People had to get past that earthy thing; but then they came to love it. People who have acquired a taste for beets swear by them. They think beets are one of the tastiest root vegetables there are.

Think about what you might be missing.